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Prejudice: What can be done?

August 26, 2015

Prejudice: What Can Be Done?

Prejudice can be eliminated, or at least reduced so much that it can be managed and it doesn’t issue in discrimination. It doesn’t necessarily cause significant harm.

A prejudice (What?) such as racism is an intoxicant, and luckily there are inexpensive, over-the-counter anti-intoxicants—but you have to take them, sometimes for a long time.

Prejudice is irrational, misinformed, illogical, sheltered, and infectious. Anti-intoxicants include rationality, good reasoning, information in the form of facts and positive (or even neutral) experiences, and confrontation and exposure (sometimes risky).

These meds work effectively in combination, and some patients need to take a cocktail of them—certainly our society does.

A few thoughts (which could be books):

Irrationality. Prejudice carries an emotional charge; it is energized mainly by fear. Often it is learned from others, such as family, friends, politicians, or society at large, without being grounded in experience; but experiences can reinforce it, and it then distorts our understanding of other experiences (I’ve narrated such a traumatic experience, of my father’s, and his gradual healing). That fear can spark and feed the emotions of anger, resentment, and hatred.

We can take the anti-intoxicant of rational recognition, understanding, and modification of our supercharged emotional interpretations and responses. A more rational public culture helps its individual citizens live rationally.

Misinformation. This is lack of information, and/or having false information, about humanity, society, and specific groups.

A good anti-intoxicant is experience. I remember when Conservatives, facing integration of water fountains etc and schools, by law, argued that we can’t change people’s morality—which they defined as what’s in the heart (are you old enough to remember “In your heart you know he’s right”?) by passing laws. That turned out to be untrue. Laws change behavior and thereby change experience, and changing experience changes one’s perception, and then heartfelt behavior.

Patterns of experience can be established in our society that put us in positions of positive contact with people whom we were ignorant about. We learn that those “other” people are just like us. Another example is the change in public attitude when so many homosexual individuals came out of the closet. Then experiences of same-gender marriages are accompanied by positive emotions and a “change of heart” about (formerly) “those people.”

Illogic. Stereotyping, for instance.

An important anti-intoxicant is the Quaker firm but gentle, friendly persuasion. Another is the Socratic method. In conversations we question facts and interpretations, in a not-blaming way, definitely a non-shaming way. Concretely, was that really what happened? Are all Xs like that? What about this counter-example in my experience? Was B actually caused by A? What was scary about that? We can thereby nudge our family member, friend, co-worker to imagine life very differently.

And when that med fails, recommend surgery.

Shelter and Infection. Families, clubs, businesses, towns, whole regions, media, politicians and entire political parties (what could I be thinking?) provide dens where their denizens can freely imbibe, and into which the vulnerable can be inducted.

Some can be transformed from within, others must be pressure from outside, some must be made illegal and disbanded. All are destructive and none should be tolerated.

Therapy: I think that prejudice is a deep illness suffered by the soul, in individuals and societies, in the form of an inaccurate and destructive imagining of human interaction. The best anti-intoxicant is loving attention to the soul, through a re-imagining that, for instance, calms fear, builds empathy, disperses power, and concretely images health and the soul itself.

From → classism, racism, sexism

  1. Excellent article. Further food for thought though, two examples come to mind with those who have prejudices in society. The political correctness is sometimes considered inappropriate for modern day society, there are many people in the UK who are against political correctness because they feel minority groups can say what they want while others cant. The often mentioned example is that in rap videos where black people refer to themselves as the N word. Of course anyone else who said that would be in serious trouble, though why anyone would want to be saying it in the first place is beyond me. Furthermore the often misunderstood Feminism movement incorporates at times what could only be said as prejudices in themselves, the Feminism movement can be associated with a male hating movement, while this is not the reality many would believe so. A greater discussion on what offends people and paradoxes of being offended would also be a great way to move the discussion forward.

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